Five former champions, proven race winners and a growing number of young contenders to challenge for 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship
A capacity 32-car entry has been announced for the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship during today’s (22 March) annual Season Launch event at Donington Park. The line-up represents the largest ever full-season entry in the history of the BTCC. With all 32 TOCA BTCC Licences (TBLs) now in operation, which are required to gain entry, series organisers also had to turn away two further proposed entries from the now capacity grid.
Eleven marques are represented in the 2016 entry list with Japanese motor sport icon Subaru joining the fray as a fully-fledged manufacturer squad. Subaru join Honda, MG and BMW in the contest for manufacturers/constructors’ honours, whilst a host of independent outfits will also fight for teams’ glory.
An enthralling BTCC campaign went down to the wire last year as five former titleholders fought it out on the final day of the season. It was Honda’s Gordon Shedden who emerged victorious to win Britain’s most coveted motor sport prize, but this year the Scotsman and his fellow proven champions face a challenge from an ever-growing number of young contenders. While the competitiveness and staggering diversity of cars remains unparalleled in comparable series around the world, the successes the BTCC enjoys on-track have been more than matched off-track, with a number of hugely significant partnerships confirmed in recent months.
New long-term contracts have been secured with loyal and valued partners in Dunlop and ITV, whilst two vital technical partnerships have also been awarded to the RML Group and Swindon Engines.
Dunlop continue as title sponsor and official tyre supplier until 2022, while ITV will continue to broadcast each and every race live, free-to-air and in high definition on ITV4, plus extensive highlights programmes, for the same period. This year’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will again comprise of 30 races across ten events at nine venues around the UK, with the season commencing at Brands Hatch on 2/3 April and concluding on the legendary Grand Prix circuit at the same venue on 1/2 October.
Champions ready, challengers ready…
Gordon Shedden joined an elite group of two-time champions when he took the crown in the closing moments of the 2015 BTCC season at Brands Hatch. The brand new Honda Civic Type R was immediately quick when it hit the track on the eve of the 2015 campaign. In fact, the world-renowned Type R raced in the BTCC before it was even available to buy as a road car, which added to the challenge for the Team Dynamics-run squad. Development of the machine continued throughout its championship-winning campaign and the team has been hard at work testing during this pre-season too, so expect Shedden and team-mate Matt Neal to again be among the contenders this time around.
Arguably the biggest story over the winter was the announcement that Subaru would be joining the BTCC for the first time in its history. Team BMR is running the four-car operation and also boasts both Jason Plato and Colin Turkington in its armoury. Faced with the ‘new car’ challenge experienced by Honda last year, the team will be buoyed by its rivals’ exploits in 2015 and will look to hit the ground running.
The remaining champion on the grid is Andrew Jordan, who has swapped MG for Ford machinery in 2016. Pirtek-backed Jordan will be driving the form car too, as Motorbase Performance produced some sensational results in the second half of last season, largely thanks to star driver Mat Jackson. The former BTCC runner-up is back onboard with the Kent-based squad for 2016, with many of the experts suggesting Jackson has the best chance in his career of finally winning the title.
The other manufacturer-supported squads at MG Racing RCIB Insurance and West Surrey Racing also have championship challengers in their respective ranks. WSR’s trio of BMWs conquered all before them in the 2014 season – winning all four championships it contested – but the squad is looking to bounce back from a fast but inconsistent campaign last time around. In Sam Tordoff and Rob Collard the two GardX and JCT600-backed BMWs have two recognised winners. The former is one of a growing number of young contenders looking to turn sporadic race wins into a genuine title tilt while the latter’s race craft and experience is well known.
The Team IHG Rewards Club BMW – also run by WSR – will be driven by Jack Goff this year. The former UK Clio Cup champion is another talent on the rise as IHG puts its faith in Goff becoming a BTCC champion of the future. MG has taken a similar route by also investing its opportunities in two young starlets. Josh Cook won the Jack Sears Trophy for rookie drivers and emerged as one of the gems of 2015 in his maiden BTCC campaign. A hugely popular podium with Power Maxed Racing at Rockingham proved his standout moment and Cook now gets his chance with a works team. The meteoric rise of his new team-mate, Ashley Sutton, has been even greater, as the 22-year-old graduates from Clio Cup champion to MG driver in the blink of an eye, and will surely be one to watch in his rookie season.
The young gun theme continues with more drivers than ever graduating from BTCC supporting series’. Adam Morgan and Aron Smith are among the BTCC race winners who progressed from the junior ranks a number of years ago while Tom Ingram and Aiden Moffat will be looking to reach the top step of the podium after their rostrum exploits in 2015.
Emerging rookies Michael Epps and Chris Smiley plan to establish themselves in the BTCC having now progressed to Britain’s premier motor sport series. They will join a list of six drivers contesting this year’s Jack Sears Trophy.
Rob Austin is among those who’ll be looking to string an outright championship challenge together while James Cole and Andy Neate will hope to make the most of their manufacturer-backed drives with Subaru and Honda respectively. The entry list was completed with today’s announcement that TV star and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race-winner Kelvin Fletcher will be joining Power Maxed Racing in its second Chevrolet Cruze, and the arrival of BKR with its new two-car team ensures the popular VW CC and Aron Smith return to the grid. Debutant Mark Howard also joins BKR as Smith’s team-mate.
In total there will be a full grid of 32 drivers with Audi (AmD Tuning), BMW (Team IHG Rewards Club, Team JCT600 with GardX), Chevrolet (Power Maxed Racing), Ford(Dextra Racing, Maximum Motorsport, Motorbase Performance), Honda (Halfords Yuasa Racing, Eurotech Racing, Speedworks Motorsport), Mercedes (Laser Tools Racing, WIX Racing), MG (MG Racing RCIB Insurance), Proton (Goodestone Racing), Subaru (Subaru Team BMR), Toyota (Handy Motorsport, Speedworks Motorsport, TLC Racing, RCIB Insurance Racing) and Volkswagen (BKR) all represented.
The BTCC prides itself on the strong and close relationships with its long-term partners, which was further enhanced during the off-season with both Dunlop and ITV committing to unprecedented new multi-year deals. The ITV network will continue to screen the BTCC live and free-to-air until at least 2022 after a new contract was signed between Britain’s biggest motor sport series and the UK broadcasting giant – making it the largest TV contract in the BTCC’s history and also the longest sports broadcasting contract that ITV4 has ever entered into. The ITV network has broadcast the series since 2002 – with its coverage levels increasing hugely in recent years – and this latest contract will take the partnership into an incredible 20th year. With the current term concluding at the end of the season, this new contract commences from 2017 and will see the network continue its current broadcast arrangements, which feature at least seven hours of live coverage from each race day. Highlights programmes will also continue to be aired on ITV4, whilst qualifying will be shown via ITV’s dedicated BTCC website – www.itv.com/btcc.
All transmissions will be streamed ‘as live’ via itv.com with highlights programmes being available to watch via the newly launched ITV Hub. The ITV network screened more than 230 hours of BTCC coverage in 2015. This incredible news quickly followed the announcement that Dunlop had also committed to a further five years, as title sponsor and official tyre supplier to the BTCC from 2017.
The contract extends both the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title sponsorship, which began in 2005, and the official tyre supplier partnership, which began in 2003, into a third decade – making it one of the most enduring major sponsorships in top-level motor sport. In addition, HiQ, the nationwide fast fit network (which is also part of the Goodyear Dunlop parent company) will continue its sponsorship of the MSA British Touring Car Teams Championship for 2016. Series organiser TOCA also awarded two vital Technical Partner contracts over the winter as part of its ‘mid-term’ evaluation of the NGTC regulations. The RML Group will supply specified chassis, suspension and associated components over the next six years, while Swindon Engines will continue to supply engines to the BTCC with a new NGTC-spec ‘TOCA’ unit being produced for the 2017 season onwards.
BTCC Series Director Alan Gow said: “This truly is a golden era for the BTCC and our developments in recent months further underline its strength and position as Britain’s most successful motor sport series – and by a very big margin. I’m also really pleased with the increasing amount of new talent that’s been coming into the BTCC over the last few years. Make no mistake, many will go on to become the future ‘household names’ of the BTCC and are set for great long-term careers in Britain’s biggest championship. With our title sponsor, television, tyre and technical partnerships all secured until 2022 it not only underlines the incredible strength and success of the BTCC – but also importantly provides a rock-solid foundation on which our teams can continue to invest and build their businesses. Our fantastic capacity line-up for 2016 looks set to be even more competitive and enthralling than ever – I’m genuinely excited to see how the season unfolds. The anticipation amongst our enormous number of fans is also very plain to see… the off-season has been full of intrigue. These really are the ‘good old days’ that, one day in the future, we will look back on with great fondness and delight. But today is all about the ‘here and now’ and we’re all looking forward to witnessing another classic year of the BTCC.”